Friday, August 21, 2009

Things I’ve noticed: Dune really wrecked Science Fiction

Okay, first off, yes I like the book Dune, the story is engrossing, the characters are neat and the concepts are pretty freaking cool. My problem with Dune is not its endless sequels or any of the movie adaptations, it’s simply this:

I believe that since it was published in 1965, Science Fiction as a genre has suffered.

A little background, I’ve been spending the last few years reading a lot SF, I’m still very into horror and love a good fantasy, but my inner twelve-year-old loves to dig into a good SF novel and be blown away by all the cool ideas and characters (and ray guns). One of my favourite things about SF is that the sheer amount of stuff that those authors pack into these books is unbelievable.

Case in point: Double Star, by Robert A. Heinlein – in less than 200 pages Heinlein gives us space travel, political intrigue, thrills and chills, and the obvious inspiration for the Kevin Kline movie “Dave.”

Now Dune gives us a lot as well; space travel, economics, guilds, family drama, mysticism, desert people, sand worms, and martial arts. The problem, to do all of this Frank Herbert needed a lot of space, 517 pages of space, and to be fair, with the incredible amount of stuff Herbert put into the book, he needed all of it.

Now Dune went on to win all sorts of awards, and is credited by many SF fans as a personal favourite or even the book that turned them onto SF. My problem is the effect Dune had on SF as a genre. Basically, people looked at it and instead of saying, “Wow – you can have this kind of massive family drama/economic intrigue/war story/mystical journey all in the context of SF”, they said, “Dune must be awesome because it’s really long.”

So after 1965 all SF started to get really, REALLY, BIG. I mean, look at this – I've lined up my copy of Dune with three SF books that had been written in the previous decade (Double Star and Starship Troopers by Heinlein, and Mission of Gravity by Clement), all of them award winners, all of them critically acclaimed, and all of them barely adding up to the page count that is DUNE.

The trend of writing bigger SF books never stopped. Have you looked at the page count of recent SF? These things are monsters, often coming in at just under a thousand pages and the worst thing is a lot of it feels like filler, and I am not the only one to notice this.

In the end, people focused on the wrong thing – the comic industry made the same mistake after “The Dark Knight Returns” when they chose to focus on violence and grit rather than looking at the superhero mythos from another angle (which is done brilliantly by the way in both the film “The Incredibles” and the comic series “Astro City”)

Faulkner stated “kill your darlings” as advice for writers when revising their work. Seriously guys, I like reading a new book every couple of days and these SF novels are turning into one and two week long endeavors which any author in the fifties could have gotten down in less than 200 pages.

Give me back my pocket sized paperbacks!

1 comment:

  1. I kind of agree. I love a good, hefty novel if the subject can handle it (Neal Stephenson is very good at this), but the idea of a short, sweet, yet interesting sci-fi novel seems to have been forgotten in favour of heft.